Graduation Date

Summer 2017

Document Type



Master of Arts degree with a major in Sociology

Committee Chair Name

Mary Virnoche

Committee Chair Affiliation

HSU Faculty or Staff

Second Committee Member Name

Jennifer Eichstedt

Second Committee Member Affiliation

HSU Faculty or Staff

Subject Categories



This thesis is based on eleven interviews with seven students enrolled in a social science master’s degree program at a small public university in the Western United States (University of the Northwest - UNW). My analysis details the differences in pathways and educational experiences between first- and continuing-generation students in this program. I found that first-generation, underrepresented, low-income (FGULI) students expressed greater difficulty fitting into graduate school, greater doubt about their ability to ‘do’ graduate school, less comfort interacting with faculty, and less ease with the concept of graduate school and with conceptualizing themselves as graduate students than continuing-generation students (CGSs). This research is important because the master’s level of graduate education is an understudied segment of higher education. Furthermore, FGULI students are more likely than continuing-generation students to choose to pursue a master’s degree instead of, or before, entering a doctoral program. Bourdieusien analyses explain this education gap as an outcome of group differences in social and cultural capital: the middle- to upper-class white male social and cultural capital that is more abundant among continuing-generation students provides “distinction” in higher education and related connections to direct pathways into doctoral education. This research points to programmatic policies and structures that will likely support the success of all master’s students, but particularly that of FGULI graduate students at this level.

Citation Style


Included in

Sociology Commons